As some of my readers may already have figured out, one of my favorite ways to explore a new place is to take a food tour. Toronto’s food scene is incredible, both in its quality and diversity. Having indulged in all kinds of ethnic cuisines when I’ve been there, I decided it was time to find out what traditional Canadian food was all about. It was time to go beyond the poutine!
I selected the Culinary Adventure Company’s ‘Made in Canada Food Tour’ and booked us in for a Sunday. We met our guide just outside Kensington Market and found that we were going to be the only ones in the group, which made for a great personalized experience.
Kensington Market is really a misnomer, conjuring up visions of a covered market with rows of stalls, when actually it is just a bunch of city blocks with little old houses squeezed together, and a restaurant or shop in the bottom of every one of them. The residents have fought hard over the years to retain the neighborhood’s character and not let chain stores move in. They have been successful in creating a charming neighborhood with its own off-beat style that has something for everyone. I suspect change is frequent enough for Toronto residents and visitors alike to find something new every time they visit.
Here’s a run-down of the places we visited during the food tour:
Awesome Beef Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato sandwich at Caplansky’s Deli. While they’re not technically kosher, Caplansky’s does feature a great choice of traditional smoked meats and Jewish cuisine. I might be making a beeline for their Yorkville location next time I’m in Toronto.
I no longer remember what was in this pie, but I have a suspicion it involved rhubarb – either way, it was great. Wanda’s Pie in the Sky only uses local produce, and freezes fruit during the summer months for use in the winter. They don’t advertise it in a big way, but their entire menu is vegetarian.
At NU Bugel , we tried their smoked trout sandwich with arugula, sweet horseradish jelly and mustard. It was fantastic and I wished I wasn’t already feeling quite full.
4Life Natural Foods is an organic food store in Kensington Market with an excellent cheese counter, where we were able to taste three artisan cheeses produced in Canada. The brie-like one was a little too stinky for Stu, but I loved it. There was a brief comic moment when someone who wasn’t on the tour thought the cheese tasting was for everyone and started helping themselves to the cheese. Luckily there was enough to go around.
Fresco’s Fish and Chips is one of the top places in Toronto to have poutine. Unfortunately at this point, my stomach was rebelling against the food quantities, and I didn’t eat as much of it as I’d have liked. Legend has it that someone walked into a chip shop one day and demanded fries with cheese curds and gravy on top. The chef turned to his assistant and said, “Quelle poutine!”, What a mess! And thus a cult dish was born.
We were somewhat relieved when we found that our final stop was at the Toronto Popcorn Company and all we had to do was sample a couple flavored popcorns. Our guide recommended the maple and bacon, which I have to say was pretty awesome. You can try every single popcorn flavor in the store, and it’s hard to walk away empty-handed.
And with that, what I like to think of as our ‘eh’ tour came to an end. We certainly enjoyed all the food and the personal attention, but I have to say that I missed one thing that the Asheville food tour we went on did really well. There was really no interaction with anyone from the restaurant, when this would have been a great time to tell their story.
As we meandered back to our hotel in Yorkville, Stu got unaccountably excited when we came across the Ontario Legislative Building and stopped to take pictures. Only several minutes later was I able to extract the information from him that the front of this building had been featured on Rush’s Moving Pictures album cover.
See the resemblance?